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Pollution & HealthHarlem Week Event Discusses Environmental Justice and a More Equitable Future

Harlem Week Event Discusses Environmental Justice and a More Equitable Future

Harlem Week Event Discusses Environmental Justice and a More Equitable Future

Known for luminaries corresponding to Langston Hughes, Duke Ellington and Malcolm X, Harlem has been a middle of the African-American experience for the reason that early twentieth century. But like other historically disadvantaged neighborhoods, Harlem has suffered from public policies that hindered its development, marginalized its residents, and polluted its neighborhoods. The legacies of those policies are visible today in every little thing from high childhood asthma rates to the urban heat island effect.

On August 10, the Columbia Climate School, the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, and the City College of Recent York hosted “Climate Change and Environmental Justice in Harlem,” an event that brought experts, practitioners, community leaders and residents together to debate a more equitable future for Harlem while remembering its past.

Participants from left to right: Daniel Zarrilli, Emily Maxwell, Peggy Shepard, Milton A. Tingling, Adriana Espinoza and Lloyd Williams. Full titles appear at bottom. Photo: Chris Dobens / WE ACT

“Why can we call it environmental racism?” asked WE ACT for Environmental Justice co-founder and executive director Peggy Shepard. “Because communities of color like Harlem have been targeted by business, industry and even government to bear the disproportionate exposure to polluting facilities and toxic sites. It really results from a Byzantine legacy of housing segregation, land use and zoning discrimination, and a scarcity of environmental law enforcement.”

The panelists touched on a few of the many challenges that discriminatory policies have left behind in communities like Harlem, corresponding to a scarcity of tree cover and green space, polluting industries, and disparities in heat exposure and mortality. Recent York State Senator Cordell Cleare identified that recognizing the importance and interconnectedness of environmental issues is vital to charting a recent course in marginalized areas.

New York State Senator Cordell Cleare

Recent York State Senator Cordell Cleare. Photo: Chris Dobens / WE ACT

“Not everyone thinks about clean air to breathe, pure water to refresh, and an environment secure from weather extremes as immediate needs,” said Cleare. “Nevertheless, there may be a single current that runs through all of those issues: they’re fundamentally related to justice, equity and reversing centuries of racist, discriminatory impacts and selfish considering.”

While much research stays to be done to higher understand the continuing impacts of environmental racism, Courtney Cogburn of the Columbia University School of Social Work emphasized that the discriminatory policies of Harlem’s past don’t have to dictate its future.

“I just wish to drive home the purpose that racism is designed,” said Cogburn. “The choice to fill Harlem with concrete and never trees is an element of why Harlem is a lot hotter than Central Park West. That’s a design decision. Since it was designed and since communities don’t just occur to be disadvantaged, it may well be undesigned and it may well be redesigned.”

Perhaps Harlem’s past may even provide pathways to a brighter future. A century ago, the Harlem Renaissance modified the worlds of art and culture. Could Harlem at some point turn out to be a frontrunner within the transition to a green economy?

“My vision,” said Shepard, “is absolutely to redress the legacy of pollution by targeting frontline communities to turn out to be green zones where we are able to incentivize and aggregate community shared solar, electrification, energy efficiencies, green businesses, good jobs, and employee cooperatives in targeted communities which were so disinvested in for therefore long.”

“Climate Change and Environmental Justice in Harlem" panel. Photo: Chris Dobens / WE ACT

Photo: Chris Dobens / WE ACT

Several projects are already searching for to show vision into real change each in Harlem and beyond. WE ACT’s Solar Uptown Now project helps bring inexpensive solar energy and green jobs to Harlem neighborhoods. The Nature Conservancy’s Urban Forest Agenda goals to extend the quantity of tree cover citywide to 30% by 2035 — an amount specified by the NYC Department of Health to attain cooling thresholds and protect vulnerable neighborhoods. And each organizations are working to support the landmark “Clean Air, Clean Water, and Green Jobs Bond Act” that might provide funds for environmental conservation and green initiatives across Recent York State.

“We’re also working hard with a lot of you on this room, including WE ACT, to advance the Bond Act,” said Emily Maxwell, Recent York Cities program director at The Nature Conservancy. “That Bond Act might be voted on on November eighth. It’s a $4.2 billion bond act for clean air, clean water and green jobs. There are over 200 organizations statewide pushing this. If it passes, it’s going to create 8.7 billion in investment in capital projects, and importantly, 35 to 40 percent of that — very like the Climate Act — is required to be invested within the term ‘disadvantaged’ communities.”

In closing, Peggy Shepard acknowledged the challenge ahead, but additionally found reasons for optimism in shared values and community.

Peggy Shepard. Photo: Chris Dobens / WE ACT

Peggy Shepard. Photo: Chris Dobens / WE ACT

“We’ve to make sure that the investments and the advantages reach the communities intended, given the bias and the ambivalence of so many state and native governments around this country. We all know if this is finished effectively, that this may very well be transformative and may stop the cycle of exploitation and degradation. Because we all know that each community has the appropriate to a clean environment. You don’t should be an environmental or climate justice leader to embrace that as a worth. We will create a legacy of environmental quality and climate resilience for all in Harlem and the Harlems of the world. We will do this together because place matters. Place matters.”

“Climate Change and Environmental Justice in Harlem” was a part of the annual Harlem Week celebration. The participants included:

  • Cordell Cleare, Recent York State Senator, thirtieth Senate District
  • Peggy Shepard, Co-founder and Executive Director, WE ACT for Environmental Justice
  • Daniel Zarrilli, Special Advisor, Climate & Sustainability, Columbia University
  • Courtney Cogburn, Associate Professor, Columbia University School of Social Work
  • Adriana Espinoza, Deputy Commissioner, Equity & Justice, Recent York State Department of Environmental Conservation
  • Emily Maxwell, Recent York Division Cities Director, The Nature Conservancy
  • The Honorable Milton A. Tingling, Chairperson, Board of Directors, West Harlem Development Corporation
  • Lloyd Williams, President, Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce
  • Arthur Chi’en, Anchor/Reporter, FOX 5 Recent York


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